CLEMSON - Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant believes the third-ranked Tigers are ready for a shootout at No. 14 Louisville, even if his offense didn't look that way in last week's victory against Auburn.
The Tigers (2-0) trailed much of the first half against Auburn. All of their points in a 14-6 win came in the last drive before halftime and in the first drive of the second half. Beyond that, Clemson struggled to protect Bryant (he was sacked four times) and establish the ground game (only 96 yards on 36 carries).
"Of course, we're going to have to bring it," Bryant said of Saturday night's matchup at the Cardinals. "Some games are going to be like (Auburn), others you're going to put up points."
Clemson has had little problem regularly scoring points since 2011 when now-SMU coach Chad Morris took over as offensive coordinator. When quarterback Deshaun Watson joined the team in 2014, production went into overdrive with the Tigers averaging nearly 40 points and more than 500 yards a game on the way to a national championship.
But last week's win against Auburn, led by the Clemson defense's 11 sacks, has raised questions about an offense that features seven first-year starters, including Bryant.
Co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott saw enough good things from his attack to believe his guys are moving in the right direction.
"It's great to win a game like that," he said Monday. "We're fortunate being around here a few years to play in a lot of games like that."
Still, Clemson struggled to move the ball much of the game.
The Tigers managed just 26 yards in first four series, punting three times and fumbling once deep in their own territory that led to an Auburn field goal. It wasn't until Bryant took a hard hit that knocked the wind out of him and went to the sidelines for a few snaps that Clemson's offense got going.
When Bryant returned, he led an 88-yard scoring drive that he ended with a three-yard TD run to take the lead for good. Bryant took control once more after halftime, his 27-yard touchdown run capped a 79 yard drive. Outside of those two sequences, Clemson's offense managed 114 yards and Auburn was able to stay one big play from a comeback the rest of the way.
Scott said there were some miscommunications among the offense that stopped the Tigers from getting into an early rhythm.
"When you're playing good opponents, you're going to make mistakes," he said. "Let's learn from it and how do we respond. Let's not make one mistake lead down the road to other mistakes."
Clemson's offense might have to be mistake free facing Louisville and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.
The Cardinals have been agonizingly close to beating the Tigers since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, losing the past three games by a total of 15 points. A year ago, Jackson put on an impressive display in the second half turn a 28-10 Cardinals' deficit into a 36-28 lead with seven minutes left. That's when Watson, the two-time Heisman finalist, one-upped Jackson with two touchdowns in Clemson's 42-36 win.
Jackson's final, fourth-down pass near Clemson's end zone came up a yard shy in a last chance to take down the Tigers.
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said his players will have to overcome Clemson's dynamic defense to have success.
"Clemson is very good up front," Petrino said. "They've got two big, physical defensive tackles, two really good guys on the edge. We played against two of their three linebackers last year that are really fast and slippery. They slip blocks and make tackles and they keep them free. They run very fast to the ball. It's a good package."
Clemson left tackle Mitch Hyatt thinks any problems will be settled before Saturday and the showdown at Louisville.
"This year we're still trying to figure out ourselves, figure out our identity," Hyatt said. "It would be nice since the defense did step up this week, to take some weight off their shoulders."
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